In the darkness, rays of light.

Edmonton Economic Development boss Brad Ferguson told the blunt truth Tuesday in his speech at the agency’s Impact Luncheon.

Global trends – the two-thirds drop in the price of oil, on-going low prices for natural gas, growing government debt, stalled global economic activity – are all against Alberta’s interest.

Nationally, the weak Canadian dollar, provincial and national governments' “toxic” borrowing and lack of new pipelines are further screwing up our provincial well-being.

The new provincial government has focused on economic and environmental reforms, on safe-guarding the public sector - just as economic growth dramatically slowed.

If the status quo carries on, Ferguson said – the endless government borrowing, the drop in employment opportunity, the loss of the “Alberta Advantage” for business – it will rip apart the social fabric of Alberta.

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In search of employment, our children will leave. Grandchildren won’t have grandparents nearby to help in their rearing. With a neglected and weakened economic foundation, our history, our traditions, our way of life could be as much eroded as in the Maritimes.

Ferguson might as well have said these bold words straight to Premier Rachel Notley’s face. “Over the past six months we’ve been made to feel ashamed of our history, the embarrassing Canadian cousin that no one wants to talk about, the outlier (the different one) among provinces.

“I’ll let you in on a little secret. I always want my kids to be outliers. I never want them to be average.

“I have no problem making incremental changes to economic and social policies, but if it is done in a way that undermines history, culture and identity, then I take great exception.

“Being the freest, most entrepreneurial, least unionized, least subsidized, least regulated, hardest-working province in Canada is what has made us successful. It is our brand and our way of life, and by remaining steadfast to those principles, we have outperformed every other jurisdiction in Canada and North America.”

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Hear, hear!  And now, the rays of hope.

1. Premier Notley finally has a gut understanding of the importance of oil and gas to the Alberta economy. Her nuance has shifted from indifference to serious support. She was too polite, but she came out swinging against goofy BC’s decision to oppose the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to carry more Alberta oil to the B.C. coast for export. It’s a start.

2. The new Liberal government in Ottawa is listening.  Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault held town-hall meetings this past week to collect grass-root opinion on government priorities. The Trudeau government will not be anti-fossil fuels, but will encourage emission-reduction. This honest consultation should result in national energy policies good for Alberta – new pipelines, emission-reduced oil and gas production, renewed interest in “clean coal”.

3. “Diversification” is slowly being re-defined to be harmonious with, not opposed to the oil/energy patch. As Ferguson put it, “rumours of the demise of fossil fuels are greatly exaggerated.” It’s dawning on Notley’s NDers that more can be gained by greening fossil fuels than by disdaining them.  Ferguson’s recommendation that 50% of Alberta’s “diversification” be devoted to “cleaner, greener, safer, faster and cheaper” fossil fuel production should be implemented.

4. The will to build for Alberta’s future is growing.  Ferguson’s suggested priorities make sense: Innovation in the energy sector; new pipelines; entrepreneurial support; growing Alberta’s exports; developing new health-product companies and new agricultural/agri-food products; encouraging tourism thanks to the low Canadian dollar.

Dark days are ahead, probably for several years.

But if we review and improve our economic foundations, not dismiss but build on Alberta’s competitive advantage, create an attractive business investment framework … as Ferguson said, “prosperous days will come.”

Graham Hicks

780-707-6379

graham.hicks@hicksbiz.com

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